When considering how to run a silent auction fundraiser, it’s essential to recognize that it has many moving parts. We suggest you use the following eight guidelines that are the critical steps toward your auction’s success. Of course, you’ll add personalized steps to your operational plan, but consider this the place to begin your successful silent auction.
1. The first item on your agenda is to create your silent auction fundraiser committee
Recruit volunteers from your organization. Extend the volunteer opportunities to their families and friends. Assign leadership roles to those in charge of managing and publicizing the event.
Your auction must be well organized. Every step should be planned so that you and your volunteers know exactly what to do every step of the way.
2. Who will you ask to attend your silent auction fundraiser?
Creating a list of attendees begins within your auction committee. In addition to promoting your auction via typical methods such as advertising, social media, flyers, and PR, you need to create an email list of who you’d like to invite.
An email list is fabulous because you can reach out to them every step of the way, increasing the propensity for them to donate items and attend the auction.
Once your committee has decided who to invite, it’s time to go one step further and approach your valuable resources, such as board members, your organization’s contacts, associations related to your cause, friends, and family, to ask for a list of references to attend the auction.
The more, the better! Thinking outside the box is truly how to run a silent auction fundraiser.
Emailing the contacts is the best way to communicate, but follow the CAN-Spam guidelines for emailing people you haven’t ever emailed.
3. Ask for item donations for your silent auction fundraiser
Brainstorm with your team about what items and services you’d like to offer at your fundraiser auction. Once you’ve determined items and services, ask your team or committee if they know any business owners who provide them.
Reach out to local businesses for donations, explaining the benefit of helping your cause, the community, and their business. In addition, donors will build brand awareness via promotional opportunities in exchange for donations.
The promotional perks can include banner ads on the auction site, window signs, emails, mentions on the website and social media, press releases, marketing materials, etc.
Our experience with auction committees is that most encounter that one volunteer who struggles to ask others for donations. We recommend you handle this by advising your entire team that people in your community, especially business owners, really do like to help others. They especially enjoy helping their community evolve and serving others in need.
Remind your volunteers that reaching out to a business owner for donations isn’t the same as asking them to buy something from you—it’s allowing that business owner to choose to support their community by donating to your cause. And remember that business owners benefit from promotional opportunities.
Also, ask the donor to email you stating their intention to donate an item or service for your auction unless they give you a donation on the spot. You can provide a request for donations written on the organization’s letterhead that the donor can complete and give back to you. The bottom line is that you need a record of your verbal agreement with a business owner.
4. Determine when and where you’ll hold your silent auction fundraiser
Some organizations make their silent auction a gala event for a night to remember at a high-end location, and others hold their silent auction fundraiser in the school cafeteria. Black tie or black Chucks, or somewhere in between—your decision, but we typically recommend that you consider your audience and what they might expect from your silent auction fundraiser.
But, of course, you can always opt for an online silent auction where your audience can bid while taking a bath, at the salon, or shopping at the mall—in your community or on vacation in San Diego, as long as they have an Internet connection.
And the same goes for you and your team—as long as you have an internet connection, you can run your auction and stay in touch with supporters no matter where you are! This should be an easy decision for your cause.
School auditoriums and cafeterias are ideal for hosting silent auctions. Whether you are doing a school-related fundraiser or not, check with a local school to see if they would consider a donation in the form of a discounted rental fee or even donating the space. More sage advice for your team around asking for donations—you’ll never know if you don’t ask!
If you choose a physical location, it should have good air circulation and be comfortable for guests, giving them plenty of space, or elbow room, to move around freely. Arrange tables around the walls, placing items for bidding on the tables. You can also set a few tables in the center of the room if needed.
5. Publicize your silent auction fundraiser
• Market your event ahead of time. Get your committee and organization to publicize it on their social media by giving them a script of what to post, including images. Social media will be your most vital promotional tool. Learn how to promote your auction with social media here.
• Create flyers to post at donors’ businesses, in high-traffic areas, and at the places of employment of your committee and volunteers.
• If you choose newspaper, TV, or radio ads, see if you can get them to donate the ad space to your cause. Otherwise, it can be a significant expense. Also, ask the newspaper, TV, and radio contacts if they would do a story on your event—this is one of the best ways to get great exposure.
• Word of mouth is also a great way to spread the news of your event.
• Use whatever resources you have to let the public know when, where, and why your event is being held.
• Show off some of the great items you’ll be auctioning on Facebook pages to raise interest and build excitement about the auction.
6. Get your silent auction donations organized and ready for bidding; create your bid sheets
• Make sure you have donated items that appeal to all ages and genders, plus all budgets. The more variety you have in price and products, the better success you’ll have in raising funds. Remember to check that all donations are clean and in good condition.
• Once you’ve organized your items, if you use manual bid sheets, it’s time to create a bid sheet for each item or service.
• At the top of the bid sheet, list the item’s name in bold. Beneath it, write a short description and the name of the donor. The rest of the sheet should include a series of numbered, blank lines. Make sure bid sheets are secured on a clipboard with a hanging pen.
• Bidders will write their bids on the sheets. Have duplicates of each sheet handy and extra blank sheets for any last-minute auction items that become available.
7. Determine rules and procedures for bidding for your silent auction fundraiser
Set rules for bidding ahead of time and post a sheet where supporters can view them easily. This is an essential part of how to run a silent auction fundraiser.
• Establish minimum bids on all items.
• Use whole dollar amounts so people will not bid in penny increments.
• Supporters can not bid less than previous bids.
• The bidder must initial bids that have been changed or crossed out.
• No bids will be accepted after the auction ends.
8. What happens at the end of your silent auction fundraiser—the crescendo!
Keeping bidders engaged while winners are confirmed
Has the silent auction set to end at a specific time? When the auction ends, you must prepare something to keep the guests engaged while determining the winners. It would help if you had a succession of activities throughout the auction to keep the bidders involved. This is especially true for the end of the auction while the committee tallies winners.
Host a dinner, offer an open bar, give a presentation about your organization—ask a key person in your to speak. Keep donors interested so they don’t get bored and leave early. We’ve seen magic shows, musical performances, stand-up comedy, games, etc. (When mobile bidding is used, this type of delay is eliminated, and you can launch right into announcing winners.)
Bid sheet management for your silent auction closing
If you used bid sheets, once bidding has stopped, committee members should immediately begin collecting the bid sheets. Go through every sheet to get the name and winning amount for the winning bidder.
After these tasks are complete, have an area ready that has been set up in advance where you announce winning bidders to come to and pay. After payment, give them a ticket for their item. Then, after all bidders have paid, set up a delivery time and area where winners can collect the items they’ve won.
Payment for winning bids
Set up a way to accept credit cards for your event. This will increase your auction sales volume tremendously. PayPal or Stripe are popular but check with your organization to see if you can piggyback on their established payment processor to eliminate having to set up accounts with a new payment processor.
Make sure you have plenty of cash for change if you decide to accept cash. Of course, for online auctions, cash is not used.
Success prevails at your silent auction fundraiser!
By adapting these guidelines to your auction, your hard work will pay off with a successful silent auction that will reach or exceed your fundraising goals! And that’s how to run a silent auction fundraiser, folks!
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